FRED MACMURRAY-A WONDERFUL, SHIFTY SCREEN PERSONA

The shifty elements in Fred MacMurray’s screen persona were best exploited in the two films he made for Billy Wilder, the outstanding film noir Double Indemnity, and the acerbic comedy The Apartment. On the other hand, MacMurray did much of his best work for the shamefully neglected director Mitchell Leisen, whose elegant films he graced nine times from Hands Across the Table (1934) to Suddenly It’s Spring (1947). Swing High, Swing Low, one of the best of these, has never, to my knowledge, been released to DVD. He was a great partner for such fine actresses as Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and especially Barbara Stanwyck (Remember the Night is one of their most infectious pairings with its sharp Preston Sturges script and with Leisen always at the top of his form directing romantic comedy).
MacMurray’s naturalness and self-effacing understatement suited both his light and dark screen personas-Douglas Sirk exploited the uncertainty behind the cheerful facade tellingly in an unsettling domestic melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) with old flame Barbara Stanwyck re-entering his seemingly staid family domicile and upsetting the apple cart for Joan Bennett and the kids; and in Richard Quine’s Pushover (1953), an undervalued noirish crime melo which was kind of a cross between Double Indemnity and Rear Window he was visibly older and tireder playing the cop going bent to have young and beautiful Kim Novak. David Thomson aptly characterized him as “a romantic lead built on quicksand, a hero compelled to betray, a lover likely to desert”. He’s surely one of the Hollywood greats.

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